Michael Pachter

Reed Hastings: Leader of the pack

November 18, 2010: 12:00 AM ET

Executives from Silicon Valley to Hollywood to Wall Street admires his savvy persistence - and his company's cool culture. The secret to the Netflix CEO's success? He never stops looking over his shoulder.

Reed Hastings isn't supposed to be here -- not on a list of the year's top businesspeople, and certainly not on the cover of Fortune. His DVD-by-mail company, Netflix, was supposed to have flamed out by now, a one-trick pony that was destined to be crushed by Blockbuster or Wal-Mart or Apple or you name it. He and his little red envelopes were supposed to be long gone, with Hastings toiling at some new startup, or perhaps enjoying an early retirement in Santa Cruz, Calif., the laid-back seaside city he calls home.

Whoops. Not only has Hastings earned the No. 1 spot on Fortune's Businessperson of the Year list, he and Netflix (NFLX) are also killing it: The company he founded in 1997 is the stock of the year, up more than 200% since January, vs. the S&P 500's tepid 7% gain. Its shares have run laps around even Apple's. Expanding at home, and now internationally, Hastings has built his company on a hard-driving and risk-taking culture that has made him a guru to a new generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. And his reach extends far beyond the Valley. Hastings already upended the movie distribution business; now he's changing the media game again by streaming movies and television shows over the Internet -- at the expense of Netflix's still-booming DVD business. Cable companies hate him. Hollywood studios aren't sure whether to embrace him or fend him off. Virtually every movie deal today includes an online-distribution component. Declares film producer Harvey Weinstein: "It's because of Netflix." More

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